A sanctuary amid the construction | PostIndependent.com

A sanctuary amid the construction

Post Independent/Kelley Cox

It’s not all bare ground at Bair Chase these days. Below the view of motorists cruising by the halted subdivision and golf course property south of Glenwood Springs, along the Roaring Fork River and the margins of Cattle Creek, is a wildlife sanctuary preserved through a conservation easement with the Roaring Fork Conservancy.Now great blue heron nests, like avian condominiums, are stacked in stately ponderosa pines. Chicks can be heard squeaking and parents fan out their breast feathers like silky shawls as they guard the nests.Despite its troubled recent history, with a foreclosure sale two weeks ago and acres of barren, graveled ground where golf course construction halted last year, Bair Chase harbors a haven not only for birds but a sizable elk herd. Even through they can rest easy along the banks of the Roaring Fork, they seem to prefer to bed down during the day on the bare ground.”Most people don’t understand the other half of the equation that’s happening here,” Roaring Fork Conservancy Director Rick Lofaro said. “There’s lots of conservation and protection measures in place here.”

Since the mid-1990s, when Bair Chase, then called Sanders Ranch, was on the books as a large commercial, residential and golf course development, developers set aside 54 acres along Cattle Creek and the Roaring Fork River to protect the heron colony and other wildlife. As part of the easement agreement with the Conservancy, access to the lower reaches of the property is restricted from Feb. 15 to July 15 to protect the nesting herons. Further, the developers have also agreed to a buffer zone of approximately 600 feet to restrict construction activity.While Bair Chase project manager John Young feels confident a sale of the property to new owners capable of developing the land will go through in the next 10 days, he also worries about the barren ground could cause a proliferation of dust and weeds as spring progresses.Now, with the cold wet weather only recently gone, Young said there is a hard crust on the bare soil that has kept the dust from blowing around.”We had a couple of big wind storms (recently) that only very modestly” contributed dust to the air, he said. “But the longer and hotter and drier it gets the more you worry.”

Once work starts up on the land, heavy equipment will disturb the crust and kick up dust. “We’ll have to run water trucks,” Young said.If the sale goes through, Young said the first step will be to figure out a new development plan. “Then work can begin and immediately we’ll finish the landforming … We need to get the land restored so it doesn’t become a weed factory.”He admits, reluctantly, that the new plan is unlikely to include a golf course.Neighboring Ironbridge “is struggling with (golf course) membership sales,” he said. “Another golf course at this time might be difficult.”

Since earthwork stopped abruptly last year when the Bair Chase developers got millions of dollars behind in paying contractors, Young said stormwater management measures have been in place to check soil erosion.Because of the conservation easement, the land is also under frequent scrutiny from the Roaring Fork Conservancy. A few months ago Lofaro saw four areas where water, melting from early spring snow, had breached the silt fence along the margins of the excavated area. Silt fencing – plastic sheeting held up with wooden stakes – is put in place to prevent water runoff from causing erosion and sediment from polluting nearby waterways.Lofaro said he reported the breeches to Young on a Wednesday and repairs were made in two days.”This 54-acre conservation easements is such a blessing for the valley,” Young said. “We have to respect it as the developer of the land. We’d be crazy not to; it’s one of its greatest assets.”

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